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The Wider Earth review at Natural History Museum, London – ‘impressive puppetry’

There’s a certain, old-style schoolboy thrill about this Australian import. A play about Charles Darwin’s legendary round-the-world voyage on the HMS Beagle, staged after hours in the Natural History Museum: it’s the kind of show that makes you feel 11 again.

There’s a lot that 11-year-olds would love about The Wider Earth. Writer and director David Morton’s story is packed with enough puppetry, projections and pulsating music to blow a young audience away. The recently-graduated Darwin is whisked from Cambridge to the Galapagos and back again in a filmic, fast-paced frenzy of snippety scenes, movement sequences, and impressively articulated wooden animals.

But impressive as the Dead Puppet Society’s giant turtles look, there’s not actually much for grown-ups to sink their teeth into here. Morton’s script is basically a succession of emphatically epic, awkwardly expositional exchanges, which rarely last longer than two or three lines. There’s enough scientific titbits to satisfy a school trip, but there’s a desert when it comes to genuine drama.

The cast don’t exactly embrace understatement either: Bradley Foster’s beardless Darwin is appropriately endearing, and Jack Parry-Jones is sufficiently strapping as Captain Fitzroy, but although everyone clambers over Aaron Barton’s rotating wooden set with enthusiasm, they’re all just a bit too shouty.

This is the first play to be staged in a new performance space built inside the Natural History Museum. It’s not all that sophisticated, but it’s staged with enough rocket fuel to see it over the line.

Verdict
An overpowered production of an underpowered script about Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle  

Production Information

Production
The Wider Earth
Venue
Natural History Museum
City
London
Starts
October 2, 2018
Ends
December 30, 2018
Press night
October 12, 2018
Authors
David Morton
Director
David Morton
Design
Dead Puppet Society (puppets)
Set
David Morton, Aaron Barton
Lighting
Lee Curran, David Walters
Sound
Tony Brumpton
Stage manager
Sophia Dalton
Cast includes
Andrew Bridgmont, Marcello Cruz, Bradley Foster, Ian Houghton, Jack Parry-Jones, Matt Tait, Melissa Vaughan, Rory Fairbairn, Kim Scopes
Casting
Ellie Collyer-Bristow
Producer
Trish Wadley Productions, Dead Puppet Society, Glass Half Full Productions
Running time
2hrs 10mins